Fibromyalgia’s Impact on Brain Structure

Summary: Researchers have delved into the brain’s gray and white matter to investigate the effects of fibromyalgia. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the team found reduced gray matter volume in fibromyalgia patients’ pain processing areas.

In addition, the thalamus, a critical hub in the pain processing network, showed altered signal distribution. Intriguingly, research suggests that these brain changes can be altered, influencing factors such as activity levels and mental health.

Key facts:

  1. The study found reduced gray matter volume in the pain processing areas of fibromyalgia patients.
  2. Altered signal distribution has been observed in the thalamus of fibromyalgia patients, indicating an altered pain signal.
  3. Changes in brain structure are linked to patients’ pain perception and behavior, and can have surprising effects on things like physical activity and mental health, suggesting they may be reversible.

Source: RUB

A research team led by Professors Martin Diers and Benjamin Mosch analyzed magnetic resonance imaging data from 23 female patients with fibromyalgia and 21 healthy control subjects.

They wanted to examine the amount of gray matter, which is the number of neurons in different processing areas of the brain, and the white matter, which mainly consists of fiber connections between neurons where signals are transmitted. .

“One of our goals is to find out if the distribution direction of water molecules varies in certain parts of the brain, in other words, we can detect any regional differences in signal distribution,” explained Benjamin Mosch.

This shows a woman's head.
The team finally linked the structural changes in the brain to the attitude and behavior of the study participants. Credit: Neuroscience News

The researchers found changes in gray matter volume primarily in the brain’s pain network, regions responsible for processing and evaluating pain.

“We found a reduction in gray matter in patients compared to healthy individuals in certain regions responsible for preventing pain,” explained Benjamin Mosch. “The size of these regions is significantly reduced in patients.”

Changes were found in the thalamus regarding signal distribution. The thalamus is considered an important node in the neurological process.

White matter differences in patients with fibromyalgia compared with healthy controls indicate altered pain symptoms in patients with fibromyalgia.

Relationships between brain structure, cognition and behavior

The team finally linked the structural changes in the brain to the attitude and behavior of the study participants. The amount of reduction in several relevant brain regions is inversely related to the level of pain reported by the patients.

When the researchers analyzed the correlation of depression or activity levels with changes in the volume of certain areas of the brain, they made an interesting observation. The size of the putamen was negatively related to the expression of depressive symptoms and the level of activity of the participants.

“This suggests that changes in the brain may not be permanent, but they may have an effect; in other words, they may change, for example, through active daily life,” said Benjamin Mosch.

So Neurology and Fibromyalgia Research News

Author: Meike Dressen
Source: RUB
Contact: Meike Driessen – RUB
Image: Image credited to Neuroscience News.

Preliminary study: Closed access.
“Brain morphometric changes and the impact of psychometric and clinical factors in fibromyalgia: a volume and diffusion-tensor imaging study” by Martin Dier et al. Arthritis research and treatment


Brain morphometric changes and the impact of psychometric and clinical factors in fibromyalgia: a volume and diffusion-tensor imaging study.


Previous studies have frequently found different brain morphometric changes in patients with fibromyalgia (FM), mainly affecting gray and white matter in areas related to sensory and pain processes. However, few studies have yet linked different types of structural changes and little is known about the behavioral and clinical determinants that may influence the occurrence and progression of these changes.


Voxel-based morphometry (VBM) and diffusion-tensor imaging (DTI) to identify regional (micro)structural gray matter (GM) and white matter (WM) changes in 23 patients with FM compared with 21 healthy controls (HCC). ) we used. , taking into account the influence of demographic, psychometric and clinical variables (age, symptom severity, pain duration, temperature pain threshold, depression scores).


VBM and DTI revealed striking patterns of brain morphometric changes in FM patients. GM volume was significantly reduced in bilateral medial temporal gyrus (MTG), parahippocampal gyrus, left posterior anterior cingulate cortex (dACC), right putamen, right caudate nucleus, and left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). In contrast, increased GM volume was observed in the bilateral cerebellum and left thalamus. Furthermore, patients showed subtle structural changes in the WM connectivity surrounding and connecting the medial lemniscus, corpus callosum, and thalamus. Pain-biased aspects (pain severity, pain ratings) showed negative correlations mainly with GM in the bilateral putamen, pallidum, right midcingulate cortex (MCC) and several thalamic subdivisions, but pain chronicity was negatively correlated with GM volumes in the right hemisphere. is it . Insular Cortex and Left Rolantic Operations. Affective-motivational pain sensations (anxiety, general activity) are related to GM and FA values ​​in the bilateral putamen and thalamus.


Our results suggest a variety of distinct structural brain changes in FM, particularly affecting areas involved in pain and emotion processing, such as the thalamus, putamen, and insula.



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